Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unknown (2011)

A Good Mystery/Action Thriller – Until....

- When everything is said and done, I would call Unknown (2011) an entertaining and recommendable mystery/action thriller - but it also left me disappointed.

The main gist of the plot is as follows: Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), on a business trip to France with his wife, wakes up from a coma only to find that someone has assumed his identity and no one (not even his wife) recognizes him. The film begins very well and continues on for most of its runtime as a high-speed and character-centered Hitchcockian thriller. The story gets rolling very quickly - but not too quickly to the point where we are not able to connect the characters - and an exciting, mysterious tone is set immediately.

The film also looks good with above average framing, editing, cinematography, etc. from the filmmaking team. Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes some good stylistic choices that enhance the enjoyment of the film but also makes a lot of safe choices at the same time which bogs Unknown down as a genre film. One thing I particularly liked from Collet-Serra however, was the way that he handled the long scenes (by 21st Century standards) without dialogue. Such a thing is very risky to attempt in today's film market but these scenes are also, ultimately, a very engaging section of the film.

As Dr. Martin Harris, Liam Neeson wastes little time in proving to the audience that he is quite obviously too good for the material. The presence, cool, relatability and dimension that Neeson brings to the Martin Harris character and the film as a whole is essential to the enjoyment of the picture – there is  simply no movie without him. Why Neeson continues to star in these action thrillers as of late (such as Taken (2008) or The A-Team (2010)), as entertaining as they are, instead of the intelligent dramas he could be winning awards for I will never know. The vast majority of the rest of the film's cast are forgettable with the exception of the beautiful and dynamic Diane Kruger and a scene-stealing Bruno Ganz.

Unknown has a lot of components that make it a good mystery/action thriller – until it turns on you. Now, the film is not exactly perfect even when it is operating at its highest level: the script is littered with dialogue clichés and some of the action sequences have been seen and executed far better in past films (including the one particularly boring car chase in which Neeson drives the car backwards through a crowded area) – but those are minor quibbles.

Instead, the largest let down was the film's twist finale. When we find out that Neeson was a trained assassin and not the person he was for the entire film up to that point, the film's plot twists around so fast that it breaks its own neck. Not only are there questions as to why Harris does not revert back to who he used to be once his memory is jogged but the character we had just spent an hour getting to know turns out to be a completely different character altogether in the blink of an eye. Martin Harris goes from a developed character that we enjoyed and could identify with – down to nothing, a shell of a character that is supposed to be but whom we do not know! It pulls the rug out from under you, the viewer, so fast that you fly feet-over-hair-follicles flat on your ass.

My dislike for the film's final act does not mean that I did not enjoy the film or would not recommend it to others. I would count 70% of Unknown as a great modern thriller – but the other 30% disappointed me greatly.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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